CHANNEL 4 SCREENWRITING COURSE 2021 – UPDATE
Because of the huge number of scripts we received this year, the timetable for the interviews has been pushed back. The interviews won’t now be taking place until well into December. We won’t be getting in touch with anyone for a few weeks yet.
As discussed in the last newsletter, I received a lot of great suggestions (thank you!) about how we can do more to recognize and support the many brilliant writers who apply, beyond the 12 we choose for the course.
I’ve now spoken to the C4 drama department about this and we’re going to do two things –
- We will draw up a long-list of outstanding scripts submitted (we won’t be able to offer all of these writers interviews for the course). As we’re only about halfway through the reading process I’m not sure how long this list will be but I estimate about 50 scripts. Once we’ve chosen the 12 writers for the 2021 course, we will try to find industry mentors to pair up with each of those (approx) 38 writers, to mentor them for the 6 months that the course is running (Jan – June 2021) ie a sort of shadow course. The mentors will be there to offer advice and answer questions to these long-listed writers. These mentors will either be people who work in development in TV drama (& comedy) or writers who already have some experience of the industry – including writers who have come off the 4screenwriting courses in the last few years. What this mentoring will not involve will be these mentors giving detailed script feedback. We want to make it as easy as possible for potential mentors to come on board; and it’s not realistic to expect them to do this sort of time-consuming work on top of working away at their own careers. I very much hope that at some point next year, mentors and mentees will be able to meet up in person, not just on zoom etc.
NB If any of you industry script editors / development executives and screenwriters who read this newsletter would be interested in mentoring, please get in touch!
- We will be doing a press / social media announcement, listing both the 12 course writers and these other long-listed writers towards the end of the 2021 course in May 2021. Hopefully this will be a big help in alerting the industry to all 50 writers, not just the writers who have come off the course.
There were plenty of other excellent suggestions and we have focused on two of the more easily achievable ones, ones that didn’t involve huge amounts of work (and money) to deliver; but this is very much a work-in-progress and we are still open to other ideas and schemes to help match the many hugely talented writers who submit scripts for the Channel 4 screenwriting course and potential employers in the TV and film industries.
Some observations about writing & story from the reading I have been doing over the last few weeks of the scripts submitted for the 2021 Channel 4 screenwriting course.
The reading process for myself and the team of 8 script readers is a very particular one. It’s intense and mentally wearing – trying to keep up the same energy and mental receptiveness for script after script day after day week after week. Inevitably many of the scripts merge into each other and, even when there is a lot of merit, many scripts don’t stand out or really leap off the page.
This makes the first 5 or 10 pages of each script disproportionately important. The first few pages need to stand out and really grab the reader’s attention (and then once they’ve leapt over this all-important first hurdle, they need to keep surprising and to maintain momentum and quality).
There is a difference between the reader’s experience of a script and the audience’s experience of a TV show / film. In the context of the 4screenwriting script-reading, reading a script is a more demanding experience than watching a film.
So, for instance, one of the reasons that the trope of having a dramatic teaser sequence followed by a caption ‘5 WEEKS / MINUTES / MONTHS EARLIER’ becomes wearying is that often the step back in time demands a mental reset and readjustment, meeting a new set of characters and setting when we’d just got used to the characters and setting of the teaser.
The other reason this trope becomes wearying is that when, like us, you are reading a lot of scripts, this device starts to feel terribly over-familiar and over-used. As a reader, you have to stifle the internal groan at yet another script that uses this device. However, I’m certainly not saying you should never use this device. This device can work brilliantly when used well. There are no rules to good storytelling – except for ‘Be Entertaining.’
Another recurring element is the script that opens with a character waking up in the morning. As with the above example, there is nothing wrong about this ‘per se’ – but when you read a lot of scripts that do this, it starts to feel predictable and unexciting.
Last week, in the thick of reading many scripts, one particular scene stood out and instantly pulled me into the story. It stood out because there was real tension to the scene, a sense of danger and conflict in the subtext of the scene. As I read this scene, it made me think about how this sense of tension and jeopardy is missing in so many scripts. There are so many scripts that are admirably well-written but don’t pull you into their stories because there is this lack of real narrative tension, of a character facing some sort of danger and the writer causing us to feel something, to fear for the character in danger.
At one stage I read two scripts successively that were both very strong but incredibly different. The first was a stage play that was overtly intelligent – smart, articulate characters and dialogue, a play that explored really interesting and important issues. A really impressive read, clearly written by a writer of real talent.
The next script I read was far less showy, a small-scale, clearly autobiographical comedy drama about a teenager growing up and trying to recover from a parent’s premature death in a provincial UK town. This script had none of the coruscating wit of the previous script, it wasn’t as obviously dramatic. But it completely won me over in a way the previous script didn’t because it felt more sincere, honest and heartfelt. I engaged with the flawed, uncertain characters in a way I didn’t with the previous script. I think the takeaway from this is to make sure that you inhabit your characters as fully as possible – and to make sure that the story you’re telling feels honest, reflective of your own truths – rather than being calculated to impress and show off.
With every year, the overall standard and quality of the scripts we receive seems to improve. But every year I seem to read so many scripts that I admire more than I love.
Many of the scripts I enjoy most are set in communities or story worlds that I know little about, that are new to me. Stories that teach me about different, unfamiliar characters or story worlds (whether that’s the world of drag queens, Jehovah’s witnesses or a working class Belfast family) and feel both absolutely specific to that community of characters but also emotionally universal.
I think it’s important as a writer to think about the politics of writing and how attitudes change and develop over the years. For instance, one thing I used to read a lot of and which used to be on TV weekly were crime dramas about the brutal murders of women. This is a trope that seems to be less ‘in fashion’ than it was and that’s good news. Some of these scripts now stand out uncomfortably. It’s so important to examine your agenda, your reasons for telling the stories you’re telling. As a storyteller it’s so important to challenge the accepted status quo.
The next newsletter will be on Friday November 27th.
November 13th 2020